Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ray Ventura (1908-1979) – piano player and band Leader - part 2

The Frenchman who combined Jazz with Entertainment
The War-Years in South America and the Post-War Era
Georg Lankester

In my publications on famous European band leaders from the Thirties/Forties of last century, Ray Ventura should certainly be mentioned. Going deeply into the French jazz scene, I discovered how many important French and Belgian jazzmen joined his orchestra. He was a great organiser and always managed to engage the best musicians of his time.In a previous blog I gave an account of Ventura's career before WW2 - below follows the second part of my article focusing on the War-years and the post-War period.

Away from the war scene
In 1940 when France was more and more occupied by the Germans,  thousands of people moved away from Paris in order to find free areas. Ray was among them and after a lot of trouble he ended up in Lyon, still free from Germans. He happened to find there several of his band members and decided to form an occasional orchestra, again under the name “Ray Ventura & The Collegians”. His first band was established 10 years before and had given him a lot of popularity, an advantage.

Ray Ventura  (source: unknown)

And again the excellent musicians and showmen like Coco Aslan and Paul Misraki.were gathered around him. Moreover he recruted players such as Pierre Allier, André Ekyan and Adrien Terme. I can add to this that Micheline Day, Paul’s girlfriend was singing in the his orchestra as well.
They performed frequently in the South of France and sometimes in Switzerland. However, the occupation was ongoing and the anti-Jewish propaganda became more and more stronger. In Marseille they experienced serious incidents so that Ray and some of his fellow-musicians of Jewish origin in secret decided to leave France. But how?

Micheline Day and Coco Aslan ( source: Les grands orchestres de Music Hall en France) 

Thanks to a miraculous inspiration and with financial support of a benefactor, a certain Mathalon, Ray got visa for all to leave the country. Singer Micheline, who worked in Nice, was - despite the ban to bring English text - still singing in this language. She was then no longer allowed to perform in the ‘Alpes Maritimes’ and pursued till Cannes. Threathened she finally accepted the advice of her friend Paul and took the decision  to join the others and also  to leave for Rio de Janeiro.

Ray Ventura and his orchestra in Casino de la Urca ( Rio de Janeiro) (1942) ( source: Les grands orchestres de Music Hall en France)

In November 1941 after a last performance in the Cahors, the almost complete band went to Madrid via Toulouse. At the end of the month they boarded on a Spanish ship on its way to Brazil (35 days sailing). First there was some fear for German submarines, but they safely arrived in Rio.
Ray now formed a ‘war orchestra’ (which included singer/guitarist Henri Salvador) and he soon got  successful performances in the most important Brasilian towns. Then in 1942 the band travelled to Urugay where they presented a big show in the Grand Theatre of Montevideo followed by other theatres and cabarets. Since the inhabitants of this country were very fond of the French culture, the band met a lot of enthusiasm.

Ray Ventura and his orchestra arrive in Buenos Aires ( juli 1942)  ( source: Les grands orchestres de Music Hall en France)

Then the orchestra left for Argentina where it arrived in July 1942. This country was neutral, there was plenty of food and no shortage of money. The band could take advantage of these circumstances and was soon playing in the popular cabaret “Tabaris”. Although the audience was crazy about the Tango, produced by many artists – in fact competitors -  they yet met a lot of interest in their kind of music. They were playing month after month and Ventura even concluded a contract with Odeon, which company made a lot of band records.

Ray Ventura and band members with guitarist Henri Salvador ( Buenos Aires) ( 1943)  ( source: Les grands orchestres de Music Hall en France)

Apart from this other activities took place. Bass player Louis Vola, who formed part of the famous Hot Club quintet with Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli, founded a similar group and even recorded for Victor Argentina. 

Below a recording by Ray Ventura and his orchestra,  Ménilmontant, recorded in Argentinië (1942) with Coco Aslan ( Odeon 45812)

The Ventura band switched now from Odeon to a smaller record company called “Syncopa e Ritmo”. Further other small formations (the band within a band) held sessions with musicians like Henri Salvador, Pierre d’Hellèmmes, Pierre Allier and Max Mirlirot. 
All were at ease and successful. And as to Micheline, she married  an Argentinian which fact was in favour of the band too. Misraki created lots of songs and also worked for the film industry. He became a celebrity,  admired in all South American countries.Though the band members played with diferent groups, the complete Ventura band remained active and still had many performances. It was only around 1954 that the band broke up.

The new Ray Ventura orchestra ( December 1945)  ( source: Les grands orchestres de Music Hall en France)

The last episode

After the liberation Ray and Paul travelled to the United States. Paul was soon  involved in the film industry and would stay in Hollywood for a long time. Ray went back to Europe, first to Belgium and then on to his native country. Once back in France he formed a new band again which included several dedicated band members like Henri Salvador, Guy Paquinet, Gérard Lévèque, Marcel Croustier, Max Hugot and Max Elroy.
Although the taste of the audience had changed a bit, Ray was yet successful in his performances; several film recordings were made as well. His orchestra can be seen in the following movies: “Mademoiselle s’amuse”(1947), “Nous irons à Paris” (1949) and “Nous irons à Monte Carlo”(1951) – all these produced by Ray himelf.
The next years he was more and more passionated by films and starting from 1954 he left all music behind him. Only once in a while he played with an occasional band and recorded for his own label “Versailles”. However, new successes failed to occur and gradually all was in decline. His enthousiasm and his role was over! A few years later he left France and settled in Palma de Mallorca where he eventually died on March 30, 1979.

Les Collégiens, post-war period, undated  ( source: Les grands orchestres de Music Hall en France)

Ray Ventura did not invent “Jazz en scène” himself. An American, an Englishman and Grégor in Paris succeeded long before. But during the Thirties he perfectionated this kind of music considerably, which is proven by many of his records and film recordings. Other band leaders such as Fred Adison, Jo Bouillon and Jacques Hélian never have been able to match the Ray Ventura band.
Some examples of his recordings: I’m afraid of you (1928), Good for you (1930), St. James infirmary & Saint Louis Blues (1932), Just an idea (1933), La-mi-re-sol (1937), I got rhythm (1938) and Louise (1939). 

Previous: Ray Ventura (1908-1979) - piano player and band leader - part 1
Nederlands: part 1 - here              part 2 - here     

Georg Lankester

Ray Ventura: One of the most important European bandleaders of the last century. During World War II he triumphed in South America, and when the war was over, he threw himself into the film business .... its heyday of the thirties had already passed (Georg Lankester) 

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